Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kornél Mundruczós
Writer: Kata Wéber
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Ellen Burstyn, Jimmie Fails
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/26/20
Opens: December 30, 2020

Pieces of a Woman (2020) - IMDb

Most of us who have lived at least for thirty years have known the grief that accompanies a loss. But only a woman who loses a just-born baby can attest to the emptiness she feels when she has set aside a room for the newcomer, crib and toys, goes through nine months of pregnancy and feels the baby kicking only to suffer a miscarriage when the newcomer is only minutes old. As the anguished woman who barely dreamed that such a tragedy would occur, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) fills the screen not only throughout but particularly during the initial half hour of the story when the Hungarian-born director, Kornél Mundruczós, watches her in a real-time unbroken take, one of the most wrenching minutes you’re likely to see this year.

In his first feature in English, Mundruczós is known for his “White God,” a tale of a thirteen-year-old girl out to save her dog Hagen when her father releases the animal to the streets. This time he focuses not only on the aborted birth and courtroom aftermath of a botched operation by a midwife but is throwing subtle hints of social class dynamics, including the dramatic turn by Elizabeth (Ellen Burlstyn),an upper-middle-class older woman. She attempts to undo the marriage of her daughter Martha (Vanessa Kirby) to Sean (Shia LaBeouf), a construction worker intending to have his daughter cut the ribbon and be the first to walk through a bridge he is helping to build in Boston’s Charles River. (The filming by Dávid Jancsó takes place in Canada and Norway).

With her white hair neatly glued to her head evoking her wealth, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) makes her dislike of his rough-hewn, energetic son-in-law clear from the beginning. We in the audience might hold our breath with Elizabeth’s bold, straightforward comment to Sean, “I do not like you…it’s not because you’re poor but because you are not intellectual.” More mannered than Elizabeth and Sean, Martha displays her inability to come to grips with the death of her newborn, exploding only occasionally as when she is disgusted by her mother’s insistence on burying the tiny body and declaring in a huff that she will donate the deceased to a university for research.

Determined to prosecute the case against Eva (Molly Parker), the midwife, in both criminal court and in the civil department, she engages her attorney cousin Suzanne (Sarah Snook) to move the case forward, and during the next seven months, periods designated on the screen, we watch as Sean, staying sober for months, goes back on the bottle as the family begins to disintegrate.

A long take exposes a roundabout involving Martha’s sister Anita (Iliza Shlesinger) and Anita’s car salesman husband Chris (Benny Safdie), discussing the case, during which Elizabeth bursts forth with a speech noting that she was a baby in Europe who survived the Holocaust. LaBeouf is cast as Kirby’s partner for his rage, his general physicality, his temper, still leaving Kirby as the film’s center; a woman who is not all that eager to incriminate her midwife, though she had used her as substitute for the regular person she had chosen, but is swept away by an otherwise unanimous opinion by the extended family to go to court.

If any is up for end-year awards, or for acting in films running up to the Oscar season in late April, that would be Vanessa Kirby. You can see her bottled rage, her hesitancies, her grief with every gesture, her gaze at an apple whose seeds serve as metaphor for rebirth, making “Pieces of a Woman” a must-see for an audience that values such an authentic recreation of instant post-partum depression.

126 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+


KOKO DI, KOKO DA – movie review

Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Johannes Nyholm
Screenwriter: Johannes Nyholm
Cast: Ylva Gallon, Leif Edlund Johansson, Peter Belli, Katarina Jacobson, Morad Khatchadorian
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/20
Opens: TBD

The idea is a clever one, one of monstrous people acting out the only partially buried grief of a couple in a Swedish tale of horror and torment. This pic, however, does not involve mass killings or aliens emerging from bodies. It’s more grown-up tale, though remember that the fairy stories targeted to children have motifs of terror. Still, a clever idea does not always make for an entertaining film even if the performers play their parts dutifully. The rip-off from “Groundhog Day” goes on too many times with too few variations. Remember that the masterwork “Groundhog Day” does not simply repeat scenes daily but shows the principal character played by Bill Murray as one who grows with past knowledge, as when he starts out as a beginner in piano and winds up a dazzling jazz pianist.

Writer-director Jonahnnes Nyholm, whose “The Giant” looks at an autistic man who enters a fantasy world where he is a giant indulges his own fantasies in his full-length sophomore narrative feature, but the picture as a whole may test your patience. Maja (Katarina Jacobson) dies on her eighth birthday from a severe allergic reactions after eating mussels while on vacation with her parents, Tobias (Leif edlund Johansson) and Elin (Ylva Gallon). Mom, who consumes the fish likewise, becomes ill but survives though neither parent has been able to let go of grief. The vacation, which allows them to take in a show at a restaurant featuring two clowns (Stine Bruun and Martin Knudsen) is hardly compensation for what befalls the family, then indulging in bunny make-up, greasepaint that will turn up three years later in a different form while mom and dad go on a camping trip.

Strangely the couple sets up a tent in an isolated forest area rather than on camping grounds, a choice that could and does leave them open to be victimized by criminals and madmen. Sure enough Mog (Peter Belli), a dapper man with a bowler hat, a huge Andre (Morad Khatchadorian), and Cherry (Brandy Litmanen), looking like an escapee from a Charles Addams cartoon in New Yorker magazine, pop up by the couples’ tent, toying with the duo before inflicting their punishments on them. Those intruders are representations of their pictures on Maja’s music box, but they are no longer like the painted, cheerful people singing something like “Zip-a-dee-doo da,” The trio are not looking for money but are psychos who enable one another—Cherry carries the gun, Andre a club and his own muscular body, and Mog the master of ceremonies who in one scene sings “Koko-di, Koko-da,” directs the torture.

Good so far. But when the scene is repeated again, then again, with only a few changes of behavior, that’s where the aforementioned patience trial kicks in. The one comic element is the sight of Tobias, having been warned by fantasies of Mog and company, racing out of the tent in his underwear, yanking his wife Elin into the car to escape from the evil trio.

Now and then the scene fades to a series of animations of bunnies, principally, an obvious reminder of what the poor eight-year-old may have loved but can do so no longer. Perhaps the writer-director would have been ahead of the game if he restricted the running time to that of his previous shorts, “Dreams from the Woods” (8 minutes) and “Puppetboy” (27 minutes). What grief. In Swedish with English subtitles.

86 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – C+
Technical – C
Overall – C

GAVAGAI – movie review


Shadow Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Rob Tregenza
Screenwriter:  Kirk Kjeldsen, Rob Tregenza
Cast: Andreas Lust, Mikkel Gaup, Anni-Kristiina Juuso, Joakim Nango, Kim Robin Svartdal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/3/18
Opens: August 3, 2018 in NY.  August 10, 2018 in L.A.
“Gavagai” is an invented word in an imagined language that is subject to different interpretations. The term comes from the book “Word and Object” from W.V.O. Quine—a major philosopher whose Wikipedia article challenges us to understand his point of view.
“Gavagai” the film is from an American director, Rob Tregenza, using an Austrian actor, Andreas Lust as the principal character, a Finnish girl in the role of a woman being courted, and a Norwegian, Mikkel Gaup, who serves as a safari guide to Norway’s elk country.  Written by the director with co-writer Kirk Kjeldsen, the film adds class in the form of frequent quotes from the poetry of Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970).  The spare dialogue is mostly English though the tour guide speaks to his countrymen in Norwegian.

This is a most unusual film, one that is boldly original and exceptionally lyrical, rejected by several film festivals including those in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and London perhaps because it is too highbrow even for the judges.  Yet it is in no way a complex puzzle of the sort that makes people wonder, such as “Last Year at Marienbad” and “Veronique,” but is for the patient viewer who  revels in the type of cinema that penetrates life as shown by the contrasting personalities of a grief-stricken foreign tourist and his earthbound guide.

This is a road-and-buddy movie, the buddy part coming alive during the concluding moments when the two travelers for the first time laugh out loud at a mishap in the Mercedes.  The German businessman who is not named (Andreas Lust) carries an urn with the ashes of his recently departed wife, a woman who appears as an apparition as though stalking her ex-lover.  He is on the way to Vinje, Norway, the home of the poet Tarjei Vesaas with the elite project: to translate the poet’s works into Chinese. But he does not know how to drive.  In a village in the Telemark region of Norway, he hires a guide who advertises elk safari tours, offering 3000 kronas ($367) each way if he would take the grieving fellow to a remote destination unreachable by other means.  For most of the trip the traveler keeps to himself, even refusing the invitation to share the front seat with the guide.  In one scene, the guide takes a break to try to reconcile himself with an angry girlfriend (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), bringing her flowers but achieving nothing.

Doubling as cinematographer, Rob Tregenza unfolds the beauty of Norwegian heartland, hilly and green, indicating how few people live in the small towns that each house is remote from its nearest neighbor’s.  Mari (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), who is being courted, hangs her wash outside barely paying attention to the entreaties of her lover, with whom she has obviously had an argument.

Tregenza’s most notable previous feature, “Talking to Strangers,” found the American developing nine incidents in the same non-jazzy style of his current offering, which will appeal to an audience that does not require either bursts of melodrama or whodunit mystery.  The rewards are there for such people, though you would not expect this to open in many areas outside New York (August 3, 2018) and Los Angeles (August 10, 2018).

Tarjei Vesaas would be thrilled by the film.  His poems deal with the big issues: death, guilt, angst, intractable grief, all artfully embedded here.  Among his quotes, one that would apply beautifully to this film is: “Anyone who absolutely has to understand everything he sees misses a lot.”

Unrated.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+